We ate our way through Italy (of course!)

Armed with our Bible, the Osterie & Locande D’Italia (a “slow food” guide) and our Lonely Planet guide books and assisted by various taxi drivers and concierges, we had only a couple of misses in 19 days.

VENICE
First stop: Algiubagio, Cannaregio, 5039, 041-523-6084, algiubagio.net, on Venice’s north shore (where we wish we had stayed because it is so much quieter and Venice is so small that no matter where you are, you’re not very far from wherever you want to go). We started out on their canal-front deck under giant sailcloth umbrellas. But then a tempest stirred up on the lake, winds started gusting and the waiters totally battened down the hatches, folding up the umbrellas (they’d lost four in a similar windstorm a few years earlier) and moved us inside (much to our disappointment; we loved the wind), where we had a dynamite lunch. We meant to go back for more, but never made it. Source: we just stumbled on it and the menu looked so good, we went.

Second stop (the girls ate here twice). Osteria da Carla, S.Marco 1535, 0415237855 on a quiet little alley off bustling Frezzeria where whatever I had was so good that I didn’t want to share it or try anyone else’s! Source: Lonely Planet.

Top Spot (for me, anyway)

Dalla Marisa, Cannaregio 652, 041 720211 We sat right on the canal, watching working barges (including the DHL barge, which we LOVED) go by, and ordered straight from our waitress. No menu, no planning ahead, she just gave us three choices for each course and we took ’em. It was such an all-encompassing experience that none of us took photos! As the place filled up, they just added tables and umbrellas. Tough to beat. It was very end off the line–beyond us, the canal opened up onto the lagoon. Inside, all the boatmen ate and drank. You could hear them talking and laughing. Source: Osterie & Locanda.

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FLORENCE

Top Spot (for me, anyway), Mario, Via della Rosina 2R, 055 218550. No empty seats here, waiters and waitresses put strangers together at tables that seat four. Crowded, cheery (red-and-white checkered tablecloths cover the tables) and great. Eliana and I split the Florentine T-bone steak, Gav and Gary split a filet. Gary ordered a side dish of white beans and onions or something. It was fabulous. Source: Osterie & Locande.

Second top spot (for the girls and me, not Gary), iO Osteria Personale, Borgo San Frediano 167r, 055 933 1341; www.io-osteriapersonale.it; modern Tuscan (and pretty expensive) in very working class neighborhood. They had me with the melon mousse with a touch of herring starter, Sounds weird, I LOVED it. I also went for their stuffed fried zucchini flowers, which I had actually had and fallen in love with at an earlier restaurant (maybe Osteria da Carla?)

Obika, Via de Tornabuoni 16, 055 277 35 26, www.obika. An elegant restaurant set in the collonaded courtyard of some majestic Florentine palace. I had the stracchiata, which was better than burrata (I kid you not). Gary had pizza and the girls also had cheese plates. I was a little mesmerized by a couple across from us, classically Italian elegant, no longer young but agelessly cool. Him, tanned, thinning hair; her, tanned, long, sun-streaked hair, elegant white blouse, jeans. He leaned toward her talking, his hand wrapped around the back of her arm, pulling her toward him. She had the flat of her hand against his upper arm, holding him back. Eliana and I watched, fascinated.

Mercato Centrale, Piazza del Mercato Centrale. This is fast food, Italian style. It’s cool. It looked dead when we got there, but we went up the stairs of this giant, 19th-century glass-and-steel building (it is Florence’s Eiffel Tower, our tour guide said, not in height, of course, but in materials and design) and entered this massive food court jam-packed with booths selling desserts, cheeses, steaks, sausages, pasta, gelatos, you name it. There were wine sections, beer sections, it was GREAT! And crowded. We all ended up getting the pesto.

SORRENTO

Top Spot (for me, anyway): Sant’ Anna da Emilia, Via Marina Grande 62m 081 8072020. Oh, man. We went here twice. The first time, we went ‘way overboard: marinated salmon (loved it), mussels in fresh tomato sauce (really just very lightly cooked fresh tomatoes, not saucy at all and really marvelous) fried calamari and shrimp, grilled catch of the day, pasta pomodoro and the biggest plate of fried sardines you ever saw. (We kinda left Gary to himself on those). Can’t beat the location; we sat on a deck set out over the water, a spot that catches some sweet sea breezes and from which you watch fishermen folding their nets, see boats coming in, hear the church bells chime every quarter hour. Above us, a shrine to the BVM; something, I suspect, for the fishermen, whose small boats sail waters not always sunny and sparkling. It’s pretty classic, we got serenaded by a couple of teenaged accordionists, who played a few songs (which Gary was able to name all of! ) And, it’s so folksy, our waiters sat down with us after each meal to go over what we ordered and give us their bill. Loved it!

Bright blue-and-white-checked tablecloths covered the tables; one night we ate there, some sunburned blond kid, probably about ten, was wearing a shirt that exactly matched. OMG. We could see our hotel, La Tonnarella, perched on a cliff high above us, which made the 25 euro cab ride down there doubly irritating for me; next morning I ran down to the marina to find a pedestrian-friendly way so we were able to mosey down on foot the next night.

AMALFI COAST

Ristorante Maria Grazia, Via Cantone 75, 081 808 1011, Nerona. Giovanni, our intrepid skipper, rendezvoused in Nerano Bay with the doughty driver of a little red skiff that went boat to boat and yacht to yacht, bringing in customers to the restaurant. I loved the operation as much as the food and the dinnerware.

RAVELLO

Cumpi Cosimo, Via Roma, 44, 089 857156. Hands-down tops for me. For our first dinner, I went for the mushroom pasta; Gav opted for veal marsala, I can’t remember what Gary got but what really got me were the little teasers they served us, first, crisply fried zucchini flowers (of which I could not get enough) and the lightest, crispest focaccia I have ever had. So we went back for lunch the next day and ordered pizza and focaccia and they outdid themselves again with a tomato bruschetta that I spent the rest of the trip trying (in vain) to experience again.

It was a marvelous scene, taxi drivers swaggering in to take their spot in the back room while clients dined out in the front, waiters telling us to “eat it all or Mama will be mad” (eating it all was a very easy task).

MINORI
Il Giardinello, Corso Vittorio Emanuele 089 87 70 50; I went for the local scialetelli. Even better, however, was the Gambardella pastry shop two blocks down. Alas, we could only do takeout, since we had a concert to go to back up in Ravello in the Villa Ruffolo. But it was the place to sit, have some dessert and dessert wines. Make time for it.
ANACAPRI

Ristorante Giorgio al Cucciolo, via la Fabbrica, 52, 0818371917, email giorgioalcucciolo@gmail.com. This I consider our top spot in Anacapri. Gary had the best ravioli of his life here. It floated like clouds, he said. It also was an incredible place to watch the sun set over Iscia. We all had to wait until it dipped into the sea. It’s so remotely located that the restaurant has a car that picks up diners in a square in Anacapri.

ROME

Restaurante da Luigi, Piazza Sforza Cesarini 23, 39-06-686-5946. I had what at that point was the best gnocchi of the trip at this neighborhood place recommended by our cab driver.

Nonna Betta, kosher style, Via del Portico D’Ottavia, 16, 06-6880 6263. We ordered the fried antipasti–cod, mozzarella,zucchini and artichokes. It was so good, we ordered another.

Terna Secco, 14-16 ViaAndrea Doria. This is where our guide took us to gird our loins before tackling the Vatican. When I said I thought I’d get pasta with a fresh pomodoro sauce, Stephanya frowned. “What? So simple?” she said. She recommended two Rome classics and I went for the pasta carbonara, pasta cooked, dropped in egg or egg white so it cooks on it, with white sauce and some kind of incredible bacon. Definitely the way to go. You can have lots more than pasta, of course, our hostess had all sorts of antipasti and specials of the day but we were on a mission.

La Clemente Alla Maddalena, Piazza Della Maddalena 4 This was our last dinner in Rome and it was fabulous! I had what turned out to be the best gnocchi of the trip. Gary had the meatballs and Gav, who is very adventurous, culinarily speaking, went for the salt cod. We went for their fried starters, too. They were fabulous. Plus, you can wander over for one last look at the Pantheon.